Donald Trump’s former longtime personal lawyer, who once said he would put his life on the line for the president, has said his first loyalty is to his “family and country”.
Since Michael Cohen’s offices and home were raided by the FBI were raided by the FBI in April, there has been speculation the 51-year-old “fixer” could flip as Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s probe proceeds into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia’s alleged effort to interfere in the 2016 election.
In this first in-depth interview since those raids, Mr Cohen appeared to suggest to ABC he was ready to cooperate with Mr Mueller, regardless of the implications for Mr Trump.
“My wife, my daughter and my son have my first loyalty and always will,” said Mr Cohen. “I put family and country first.”
In comments many will consider could be a signal of further problems for Mr Trump, who has repeatedly denied any collusion with Russia, Mr Cohen said he did not agree with those who had sought to vilify the FBI.
Mr Trump has repeatedly attacked the bureau, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and dismissed the investigation into his campaign team as a “witch hunt”.
“I don’t agree with those who demonise or vilify the FBI. I respect the FBI as an institution, as well as their agents,” Mr Cohen said.
“When they searched my hotel room and my home, it was obviously upsetting to me and my family. Nonetheless, the agents were respectful, courteous and professional. I thanked them for their service and as they left, we shook hands.”
Mr Cohen also dismissed a recent week by the president in which repeated Russian President Vladimir Putin’s claim that his nation did not interfere in the 2016 election.
“Simply accepting the denial of Mr Putin is unsustainable,” he said.
Mr Mueller has so far brought a number of indictments, charging four former Trump campaign associates – Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, Richard Gates and George Papadopoulos – with offences ranging from lying to the FBI to money laundering.
Alex van der Zwaan, an attorney, pleaded guilty to lying to FBI investigators during the investigation, and was sentenced to 30 days in prison in April 2018. He was the first to be sentenced in the probe. Richard Pinedo, a California man who sold bank accounts to Russians accused of interfering in the election, pleaded guilty to using stolen identities to set up the bank accounts in February.
A grand jury indicted 13 Russian nationals and three Russian companies in February. In that case, Mr Mueller detailed what he said was a sophisticated plot to wage “information warfare” on the US.
Mr Flynn, Mr Gates and Mr Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty, while former campaign manager Paul Manafort has pleaded not guilty.
Bradley Moss, a Washington-based national security lawyer, told The Independent Mr Cohen’s comments – though they should be treated with caution – would suggest he was feeling the heat from several investigations.
“It seems he is making the calculation that he may have to cut a deal,” he said. “And that may mean he has to hand over whatever he has on his most prized client Donald Trump.”
Mr Moss added that Mr Cohen, who represented Mr Trump in his dealing with adult actress Stormy Daniels and paid her money on the eve of the 2016 election to prevent her going public with details of an alleged sexual relationship, “did not want to spend the next 25 years in jail”.
He added: “If that means he gives up the president, that he is the calculation he is making.”
Mr Cohen’s comments come as it emerged he had retained a new lawyer, Guy Petrillo, a former federal prosecutor who once led the criminal division of the US Attorney’s Office in Manhattan. Investigators from that same office are currently conducting a criminal investigation of Mr Cohen.
Reports suggest that once Mr Petrillo is in place, a joint defence agreement Mr Cohen shared with the president, which allowed their lawyers to share information and documents with each other, will come to an end.
Prosecutors in New York’s Southern District are investigating Mr Cohen for alleged violations of election law and possible financial crimes associated with his personal business dealings. He has not been charged with any crime.
But ABC said that on the advice of his attorney, lawyer declined to address specific questions about matters currently under investigation.
The White House has yet to comment on Mr Cohen’s comments. Speaking on CNN, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said Mr Cohen’s interview “clearly implies that he will make a deal with the government if there are charges against him and testify, cooperate, rather than sort of hold the line for Donald Trump”.
He added: “It leaves, of course, many questions unanswered. Will charges be filed? It certainly looks that way given the context of how this unfolded.”
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